Botswana dimisses cheap threats over 'pirate' radio

GABORONE – Botswana has said it no longer listens to complaints from Zimbabwe over the Voice of America broadcasts relayed through its territory.

Zimbabwe government newspaper – The Herald – published a story this week acussing Botswana of hosting what it called ‘pirate radio station’ from Voice of America (VOA).

The paper said that Zimbabwe will make a formal complaint to Botswana over VOA. Zimbabwe accuses VOA of beaming hate messages to its people, in violation of the power-sharing agreement. Zimbabwe says this threatens the survival of its coalition government. The Herald accused the Botswana government of lobbying for regime change in Zimbabwe.

However, the coordinator of Botswana government Communications and Information Services (BGCIS), Dr Jeff Ramsay said yesterday that they are used to the threats but they can do little because nothing illegal is going on. 

He said that VOA does its broadcasting from Washington in the United States and Botswana is only hosting its relay station in Selebi-Phikwe. He said that there are many European, American, French, and Chinese Short Wave and Medium Wave radio stations with relays in Africa.

"For instance, South Africa is hosting a relay for BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)," he said. He said that he is aware that the VOA programme (Studio 7) that Zimbabwe is complaining about is produced in Washington by Zimbabweans and it touches on the situation in that country and to some extent it is critical.

He stated that Botswana will not just terminate the agreement it has with VOA for as long as it is in the best interest of the country. The VOA has had a relay station in Botswana since the early 1970s but Zimbabwe started complaining about it in 2003.

The Herald reported that Zimbabwe made a formal complaint about the VOA broadcasts last year through the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation and it would soon raise the matter with Gaborone.

"We made a complaint and the Organ said the issues should be addressed bilaterally through the Committee on Defence and Security and the Joint Permanent Commission," the paper quoted a Zimbabwe Foreign Affairs official as saying.

The Herald reported that the matter is set to be discussed at the next meeting of the committee on Defence and Security and the Botswana-Zimbabwe Joint Permanent Commission on a date yet to be announced. Attempts to get a comment from newly appointed High Commissioner of Botswana to Zimbabwe, Gladys Kokorwe did not bear fruit as her mobile phone was off.